The importance of confiscating the illegal bears in Quang Ninh

Source:  Labour Newspaper 
Issue: 104         
Date: 10 May, 2008

On 9th May, Labour Newspaper published an article entitled “Dealing with the 80 unchipped bears in Quang Ninh: a dangerous precedent for bear conservation in the future”. The article outlined the proposal by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) to allow farm owners to continue to keep in captivity 80 illegal bears in Quang Ninh. On 9th April, a Labour Newspaper journalist interviewed Mr. Nguyen Dinh Xuan, a member of the National Assembly (Tay Ninh) who has on a number of occasions submitted to MARD petitions relating to the case of the 80 illegal bears in Quang Ninh.

Mr. Nguyen Dinh Xuan, when you and other members of the National Assembly, Mr Nguyen Lan Dung submitted a proposal to MARD regarding the need to confiscate all illegal bears in Quang Ninh, what response did you receive?

In response to our proposal, on May 7th the Minister of MARD released Official Document No.1247/BNN-KL which stated that the Vietnamese Panel code (1999) only refers to cases involving the illegal hunting, killing, transporting, or trading of wildlife and rare species. As such, they stated that keeping bears in captivity does not constitute a crime and as such, it is not possible to take criminal proceedings against the farm owners. Moreover, the Minister of MARD also said that the farm owners can not be fined because there is no legislation regarding administrative punishments in such cases.

Also in this official document, the Minister of MARD stated that if all the illegal bears were confiscated, they should continue to be kept in captivity on the farms. It would not be possible to release them because there are no rescue centers with the capacity to house and feed such a large number of bears. Private bear farms on the other hand have large budgets and both the conditions and experience necessary to care for the animals. For these reasons, MARD decided to allow the farm owners to continue to keep the bears in captivity.

That explanation from MARD is quite reasonable, isn’t it?
On the contrary, this explanation is completely unreasonable. In fact, most of these captive bears are originally from the wild, which means that before they come to be on the farms, humans have illegally hunted, transported and traded them on the black market. Each of these activities constitutes a violation of the Vietnamese Panel Code and merits prosecution. If the presence of the bears in captivity is not considered sufficient to justify prosecuting the owners, hunting, trading and transporting in the very least should all be considered criminal acts. I think that we need to conduct an investigation in this case to determine who hunted and transported these bears and sold them to the farm owners.

MARD’s explanation that there is no legislation allowsing for the prosecution of the bear owner is also faulty. There is legislation outlined in MARD’s Prosecution Decree and Official document relating to the prosecution of illegal wildlife traders. MARD’s response to the Members of the National Assembly and the government is therefore in conflict with previous Law Decrees as well as with their own regulations. This will create a negative precedent for wildlife conservation in the future. MARD’s decision will not deter illegal hunters or traders from continuing their criminal acts and it also breaks an International Convention on Wildlife Protection to which Vietnam is a signatory.

So do you think that MARD’s response may have contributed to the dramatic increase in cases involving captive bears and tigers since the case came to light?
Yes, it may have. Throughout Vietnam, there is a trend towards taking public or national property and claiming it as one’s own. Those who capture bears from the wild are effectively stealing national property; however they are not being prosecuted. Moreover, as stated in the law, farm owners are not allowed to extract bile or produce leather from bears. However, the key purpose for these farms is extracting bile which constitutes a serious violation of the law.

In fact, most farm owners hold influential positions in society and wield considerable power. Is this the real reason why MARD has acted as it has in this case?
This is true. In fact, local residents would be quickly arrested and prosecuted if they were to hunt a single loris from the forest or take part in wildlife transportation. However in this case, there are seven bear farms keeping up to 280 bears, and yet these farms are still in operation. It can be concluded that the farm owners must wield power which influences MARD’s decision. Therefore this case, which involves the large-scale illegal trade of wildlife, will go unpunished, while local people will be punished for even minor violations. The law therefore is inconsistent and fails to guarantees social equality.

What should we do to remain in strict and clear compliance with National Law?
The government should confiscate all the bears and transfer them to rescue centers.

However MARD has also asserted that the government has neither the funds nor expertise necessary to feed these bears, while private bear farms do. What do you think?
It makes no sense for the Government to say that it cannot feed the bears, when it could be working with international and national organizations and individuals to build the facilities necessary to do it.. The main objective of this confiscation is to deter those who break the law by hunting and trading wildlife, as well as to ensure strict compliance with the law.

Translated by Le Minh Thao on May 15, 2008; edited by Laura Whitford on May 19, 2008.
Please note:  Translated by Education for Nature – Vietnam.  This translation is unofficial in nature.  The Vietnamese language version of this story can be obtained by contacting ENV


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